UK show examines U.S. military damage to Babylon

Tue Nov 11, 2008 10:49am EST
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By Mike Collett-White

LONDON (Reuters) - A new exhibition about the myths and reality of the ancient city of Babylon ends with a display blaming the U.S. military for causing irreversible damage to the site after it invaded Iraq in 2003.

John Curtis, keeper of the Middle East collections at London's British Museum, has been a vocal critic of the decision to build a coalition camp on the archaeological site near Baghdad that was once Nebuchadnezzar's sprawling city.

"This is tantamount to establishing a camp around the Great Pyramid of Egypt or at Stonehenge in Britain," he said in a commentary explaining the final room in the exhibition, which runs from November 13 to March 15 next year.

Photographs of Curtis's visit to one of the world's most important archaeological sites in 2004 are beamed on to the wall, showing how helipads and roads were built apparently regardless of what lay underneath and nearby.

The movement of heavy vehicles and use of chemically treated gravel all contributed to the damage, some of which is irreparable, the museum said.

Curtis concluded in a report on his visit that around a dozen trenches had been made in which were found pottery and fragments of brick with cuneiform inscriptions, and sandbags were filled with earth scooped from the archaeological site.

Nine of the molded brick figures of dragons in the Ishtar gate were damaged and the brick pavement in part of the 6th century BC Processional Way have been broken by heavy vehicles.

The museum also pointed out that former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, who identified himself with his country's ancient rulers, contributed to the problem by reconstructing buildings where the original structures once stood.   Continued...